Bone health

You may experience painful bones due to changes in your hormonal balance during menopause. Bone mass deteriorates as we get older so it is important to look after your bone health as you age. Osteoporosis (porous or brittle bones) is most commonly detected after menopause but can occur earlier. It can seriously affect your over all health and well-being, so take measures now to keep bones healthy.

What is osteoporosis exactly?

Osteoporosis is characterized by a decrease in bone density. Bones become weaker, porous and brittle. This makes the skeleton fragile and all bones more prone to fracture (break) easily. When you are young your bones renew themselves constantly. Your body breaks down old bone tissue and creates new bone tissue. Starting from around the age 35, the breakdown of bone tissue often occurs more rapidly than its creation. Your bones then become more brittle and, gradually, the risk of fracture and the collapse of vertebrae increases.

How do painful bones and loss of bone mass come about?

The female hormones estrogen and progesterone help protect your bones. Around and after menopause, your body starts producing less of these hormones. The production of progesterone stops completely. This decreases the protection to your bones and, during menopause, bone breakdown occurs more rapidly as your ability to make new bone tissue decreases. Your bones may feel achy and painful as you age and if osteoporosis develops, they can become so weak that they break very easily.

What can you do to maintain bone health?

Since your hormones no longer protect your bones sufficiently, it's a good idea to take action yourself. These tips can help you strengthen your bones and reduce your risk of osteoporosis:

  • Stay active. The National Institute of Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases in the U.S.A. says that while you can’t stop bone loss as you age, staying active can slow down osteoporosis.1 Walking, biking, weight-bearing and resistance exercises all promote bone strength.2 Varying the type of physical activity you do can boost both muscle and bone strength.
  • Eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D. Calcium helps build up and maintain your bones and vitamin D stimulates the absorption of calcium. Calcium can be found in milk, dairy products, cheese, vegetables, nuts and legumes. Vitamin D can be found in oily fish (salmon, herring, mackerel) and to a lesser degree in meat, fatty cheeses and eggs. It is also added to some margarine, diet margarine and to some baked and fried products.
  • Go outside: Exposing the skin to sunlight is the best way of getting Vitamin D which is essential for bone health. If you can’t get outside, taking a supplement in winter may be necessary.3
  • Stop smoking. Smoking lowers estrogen levels, speeds up the loss of bone mass and increases the risk of osteoporosis in menopausal women.4
  • Pay attention to your weight. Being overweight puts an unhealthy burden on your bones.

References

1. Wallace, B. A. & Cumming, R. G. Systematic review of randomized trials of the effect of exercise on bone mass in pre- and postmenopausal women.
Calcif. Tissue Int. 67, 10–8 (2000).
2. Dalsky, G. P. et al. Weight-bearing exercise training and lumbar bone mineral content in postmenopausal
3. Gaugris, S. et al. Vitamin D inadequacy among post-menopausal women: A systematic review. QJM - Mon. J. Assoc. Physicians 98, 667–676 (2005).
4. University of Pittsburgh Schools of Health Sciences http://www.upmc.com/patients-visitors/education/smoking/Pages/smoking-and-your-bones.aspx

Want to know more about other symptoms? Get expert advice for the most prevalent menopausal symptoms.